Not sure what a flatlay is? Really simply, it’s a birds-eye-view or overhead photo. Usually of things like food, fashion, tech, or desktop accessories.
These types of images have become really popular lately thanks to fashion and lifestyle bloggers on Instagram. Flatlay photos are really fun to create!
I create lots of Flatlays in various color schemes and themes for members of the Styled Stock Library because they’re perfect for social media, but also for websites and marketing campaigns. Most of my flatlays have negative space for writing text, or include tech, such as iPads or iPhones to use for mockups.
Even if you’re a Styled Stock Library member, you may want to try taking your own photos so that you have more visuals. This is also a good option if you want a specific color palette that isn’t currently available.
Here are my 6 tips for creating better flatlay photos:
1 / LIGHTING
Always try to use natural light if possible. Ideally, you want soft diffused light that’s streaming evenly through your window. Take some time to find out what times of day have the best light in your home. Also make note of which rooms get the best light so that you can find a good spot to shoot, as close to a window as possible.
The most light isn’t always the best light. You don’t want harsh sunlight because it will cause a lot of shadows on your subjects (props). You should also aim for even light rather than more light. Watch out for shadows caused by blinds or other objects. Even if you have to move your set-up to a less lit area that has more even light, this will generally be better than really bright light with lots of shadows.
2 / BACKGROUND
Keeping your background simple is generally the easiest way to help your props stand out. For beginners I would shy away from busy patterned backgrounds and stick with plain white or colored backgrounds. You could also try marble or tile as long as the grain is quite simple and not too distracting.
For the setup, again, keep it simple. Place your background on the floor or table next to the window. Place another (white) board opposite the window to reflect the light and diffuse shadows. That’s it!
Backgrounds don’t have to be expensive. Head to your nearest dollar store, craft, or office supply store and pick up white foam board or poster board. This is what I use for 90% of my photos. You can also use colored boards/paper, or even plain colored wrapping paper. Marble contact paper can also be an option if you don’t have a marble table or marble countertops.
Below you can see a simple set-up I’ve created. I used a table and placed my foam board on top right next to my window. I picked a time where the light from outside was soft so that I would have even light spread across my board.
3 / CAMERA
The best camera is the one you know how to use. You don’t have to go out and buy an expensive camera unless you’re interested and willing to learn the ins and outs of using a DSLR.
Since phone cameras have come a long way, and you’re more likely to have it on hand, I recommend learning how to use your phone camera for your Instagram photography. If you’re shooting images for social media (i.e. they don’t have to be use in large format, say for a website header) your phone camera should be just fine.
Make sure you hold your camera completely parallel to the floor. With an overhead shot you don’t want your camera on an angle. This can take a little practice so take a few shots!
4 / PROPS
Gathering props is the fun part! Don’t feel like you have to run out and buy a bunch or break the bank. Start by looking around your office, closet, kitchen and the rest of your house to see what you can gather.
Now, that said, taking an effective photo isn’t just about laying down a bunch of pretty things — there is a bit of strategy involved too!
Your visuals should always support your brand and help you to tell a story & connect with your audience.
So how exactly do you do that?
a. Start by writing down some keywords that describe your brand. Focus on the feelings you want to evoke when people interact with your brand.
For example, if my keywords are modern, luxurious and stylish, I would look for props that help me evoke that feeling, such as gold office accessories, black and white prints, high-end jewellery and makeup, fancy desserts, and exotic flowers. I would take the images on a simple white background or maybe a marble background, and I would keep the styling & props minimal to evoke that modern feeling.
Those props are going to look a lot different than if my keywords were fun, flirty, fresh. In this case, I would probably use colored backgrounds, likely in pink for that flirty feel. I would use cute plants, flowers, and fruit for the fresh feel, and I would create some interestingly styled images that were a little off beat for the fun feel. I’d also do stacks of sprinkle donuts, and bright colored drinks.
When you write down your keywords for your brand, close your eyes and think about the images that come to mind when you think of those words. What do you see? What colors? Where are you? What’s the mood?
Make notes of what you see and then move on to the next step to refine your ideas!
b. Choose a theme for your photo or set of photos.
Your theme could be something like:
a day in the life
how to stay organized
what’s in my bag
For each shoot try to stick to one theme so that you don’t get overwhelmed. Using the theme, you’ll create several different shots/layouts so that you can maximize your efforts. We’ll talk more about this in the Styling section.
c. Collect a variety of props that work within your theme.
Look for props that work with your brand colors and with the theme you want to create in your visuals. I generally start by gathering a few of the basics like florals, food, clothing, accessories, stationery, and tech. From there, I’ll look for additional props that support my theme and color scheme and use them as fillers.
Below is a photo from one of our photo shoots. We always organize the props before the shoot and place them in color coordinated sections so that it’s easy to find and pull in what we need.
5 / STYLING
Styling can really be a challenge, so be prepared to practice this a lot! I still struggle some days to find inspiration with the styling aspect, even when I have tons of pretty props to play with.
Look at some of your favorite Instagrammers for inspiration, but don’t copy exactly what they’re doing. Instead, ask yourself why you’re drawn to a specific photo. Is it the props they used? Is it the colors? Is it the way everything is laid out? Is it because there’s a lot of white space?
Everyone has a different taste when it comes to styling and it’s going to take you a little while to figure out your unique take, so don’t be afraid to play around! Take photos as you move props around so that you can start seeing what’s working and what’s not.
Step 1 / Start by placing your hero object first. This is going to be the main object you want to highlight. If you sell your own products, then this will be your product. If you’re doing a sponsored post, then make the item you’re reviewing the hero.
Sometimes you don’t have a specific hero item and that’s OK, just put down your largest item first.
Step 2 / Place your slightly smaller objects. Have two or three slightly smaller object than the hero and place them on your board.
Step 3 / Place your smallest objects last to fill the space.
Step 4 / Arrange your props in a way that creates balance. Think about how the sizes and shapes work together. Move things around on your board until you like what you see and then take a photo.
Step 5 / Move the props around again and create a new scene. Try taking out some props and take another photo. Add some more props and snap again.
I usually start by taking the first photo with just my hero item, then I add in one or two more items and take a snap. Then I add in my smaller “filler” items and snap again. Finally I rearrange everything that’s on the board and style with different layouts.
A few more tips:
- Use groups of 3 or 5 as uneven numbers are more pleasing to the eye.
- If you’re shooting for Instagram, shoot in square mode on your phone so you can see exactly how the objects look when cropped into a square.
- If you’re planning on adding text, leave white space (i.e. don’t place props) either at the top, the bottom, or in the middle of the board.
- If you have really large items, try placing them on the edge of the board so that some of the large item is being cut off, this will make things look more proportionate
- Taller items will cast larger shadows and can dwarf other items, so try to keep things around the same height. For example, if you’re using flowers, use a really short vase or lay the flowers flat.
6 / EDITING
There are tons of great editing apps out there, here are a few of my favs:
A Color Story
Each of these apps has it’s pros and cons, so really you have to try them out to see which ones you like best. If you’ve followed the steps above, especially when it comes to using natural light and a simple background, your editing should be pretty easy.
I always bump up the exposure for brighter/lighter images. Sometimes, I increase the contrast a bit and bump up the shadows to get rid of any unwanted dark spots. You can also bring down the saturation a bit if you like cooler photos.
The key with editing is to keep it natural, you don’t want images that are completely blown out.
If you’re wanting a pure white background – I have bad news. This is really hard to do with your iPhone and without Photoshop. But don’t worry, you should be able to get pretty darn close by using good light and playing around with the some of the edits I mentioned!
Go ahead and give shooting and styling your own photos a try! You might find out that you love the process, and you may discover that you’d rather not be taking photos yourself.
If you prefer using professionally styled and photographed images so that you can focus on what you do best in your business, the Styled Stock Library can help! With over 1000 images and new collections being adding twice a month, you’ll be able to up your social media game instantly!
Rachel Rouhana is the Creative Director at Haute Chocolate and Founder of the Styled Stock Library. She creates stylish stock photos for women entrepreneurs, bloggers, and creative professionals. Meet Rachel and find out how you can add instant glam to your brand at www.hautechocolate.ca.